IPP&T Magazine Online

As lockout enters 15th month, aluminum workers take protest to world stage

April 5, 2019   Don Horne




At the United Steelworkers (USW) National Policy Conference in Vancouver, B.C., union leaders from across North America have announced a global campaign to support locked-out workers at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour, Que.

More than 1,000 workers at the ABI smelter, co-owned by multinationals Alcoa and Rio Tinto have been locked out of their jobs for 15 months.

On Thursday, Clément Masse, President of USW Local 9700, representing the locked-out ABI workers, addressed 600 delegates and labour activists attending the Steelworkers conference in Vancouver.

Masse left Vancouver with a USW delegation travelling to Australia to launch the global campaign to build international solidarity with workers to challenge Alcoa’s anti-labour practices.

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The campaign begins tomorrow with the Steelworkers delegation attending the national conference of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), the largest union representing Rio Tinto and Alcoa workers in Australia.

“Wherever Alcoa has facilities, suppliers, customers, we’ll be there,” USW International President Leo W. Gerard told delegates to the union’s conference in Vancouver. “It will take as long as it takes, but we will show them that they have to negotiate a collective agreement with the ABI workers.”

Delegates to the USW conference condemned the senseless lockout at the ABI smelter, provoked and then prolonged by demands by Alcoa and Rio Tinto for more and more concessions from workers.

Alcoa is opposed to any negotiations. They keep adding new demands and are trying to break our union. The support of union members everywhere makes the difference in resisting this multinational corporation,” Masse said.

“The only way to win this battle is by showing Alcoa that we are united behind the locked-out workers in Bécancour. We are united not only in Quebec and across Canada, but in the United States and around the world,” said USW Canadian Director Ken Neumann.

USW Quebec Director Alain Croteau announced that the locked-out ABI workers will be in Pittsburgh on May 8 to protest at the Alcoa shareholders’ meeting.

Alcoa thinks it is going to force its workers to come back on their knees, but they’re miscalculating. They’re misjudging these workers and they’re misjudging the Steelworkers,” Croteau said.

The 1,030 locked-out workers at the Bécancour smelter were locked out on Jan. 11, 2018. Since it locked out the workers, the company has subsequently made several new concession demands.

On March 11, the workers voted by an 82 per cent majority to reject a new company offer that demanded greater concessions than ever.

Following the vote, the union introduced a good-faith counter-proposal that included several compromises and provided the company with flexibility to increase productivity. ABI rejected the compromise proposal out of hand and has since rejected any resumption of negotiations.


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